It was late July 2008 when Levi Wisness asked his friend, Rusty Christophersen, to do him a favor.
Levi wanted Christophersen to help his younger brother, Chase, hunt a mountain lion in the North Dakota Badlands.
“He goes, ‘Do you ever think we could get Chase in on one?’” Christophersen recalled on Wednesday. “I said yeah, I’ll do everything I could do to get him one.”
Levi Wisness died a week later in his sleep from complications related to a brain tumor he’d been battling for nearly a year.
At the time,17-year-old Chase’s future was uncertain.
He had been paralyzed from the waist down, the result of an auto accident in June 2007 — just months before his brother was diagnosed with the tumor.
“It was pretty cool he thought of me then and it was cool that Rusty was serious when he said we could do it,” Chase said on Saturday.
Over the past month, Christophersen did everything he could to fulfill the favor.
Last Monday, he and about a dozen friends capped off more than three weeks of tracking, scouting and hunting to help Chase, 24, of Keene, hunt and kill a 100-pound female mountain lion near Grassy Butte.
It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted this year in the state Game and Fish Department’s western North Dakota zone.
“It finally worked out,” Christophersen said.
Three weeks earlier, a group of friends, including Chase and his older brother, Beau, had set out into the Badlands near Grassy Butte on the trail of a mountain lion.
Equipped with a four-wheeler and a calf sled, and several of Christophersen’s friends and Chaston Lee’s hound dogs, the group traversed the rocky and uncertain landscape in pursuit of the animal.
“We pulled (Chase) up and down the roughest, nastiest hills in the Badlands to get him a cat,” Christophersen said.
But, as they got closer to the mountain lion, it began working its way into a deep coulee as they tracked it — somewhere Chase couldn’t go. So, Beau Wisness climbed down the hill and made the kill.
“There wasn’t any way we could get him down in this deep canyon,” Christophersen said. “We were all kinds of disgusted, because everybody wanted to see Chase get one.”
Because the state only allowed seven mountain lions to be killed in the western North Dakota zone this year after Nov. 23, time was running out for Chase to get his lion.
Last weekend, thanks to a timely snowfall, the state’s mountain lion quota quickly began to be filled. Turner Harris of rural Killdeer took his first-ever lion on Friday. Jed Boltz of Grassy Butte got his on Saturday. By the end of the weekend, the Game and Fish Department said only one mountain lion tag remained unfilled.
“You can’t really prepare,” Chase said. “Maybe that cat is going to be in a tree right by the road or way down by a coulee. You just sort of go and bring everything you might need and see what happens.”
The final cat
Chase and his friend, Dusty Hausauer, went out to the Badlands and Killdeer Mountain areas on Monday morning looking for places where they thought mountain lions could be. But they didn’t have any luck.
That’s when Christophersen called.
He had just received a phone call from a neighbor, Corey Hugelen, who had said he and his wife spotted mountain lion tracks in the snow on their property and wanted the group to come out and try to get Chase his cat.
So, the friends rounded up and headed out into the Badlands one last time.
“It was a huge group effort,” Christophersen said. “I can’t take credit for it. I was trying to get Chase one, but without everybody else, none of it would have been possible.”
By the time Chase and Hausauer reached the area, the mountain lion was in sight and Christophersen and Lee’s dogs were in the processes of treeing it. At that point, it was up to Chase to make a clean shot.
He did and ended the North Dakota mountain lion hunting season that morning.
“When I finally got to pull his cat up and put it in Chase’s hand, I can’t really describe the scene,” Christophersen said. “It was a weight lifted off my shoulders. There was nobody happier than me.”
Chase said he was beyond grateful to his friends — Christophersen, Lee, Hausauer, and the Hugelen, Schaper and Dillman families, all from the Grassy Butte area, who he said all made the hunt possible.
“There’s not really any words,” Chase said. “You feel really grateful to have the friends you have that are willing to do things like that for you, that you hope one day you can return the favor.”
He said never once did he or anyone who helped him believe he couldn’t accomplish the hunt because of his disability.
“A lot of the reason is because of the people I was with,” Chase said. “It didn’t really phase any of them either. It probably made it not phase me as much.”
Lee, who runs a Facebook page about mountain lion hunts in North Dakota, shared a photo of and Chase’s story on Monday afternoon. Since then, it has received more than 2,400 likes and has been shared more than 400 times.
Lee called it “by far the coolest hunt any of us have ever experienced.”
After taking a few days to soak in what he helped his friends accomplish last week, Christophersen said there may have been a little heavenly intervention as he helped both Wisness brothers get their mountain lions within days of each other.
“After I think about it more, it was probably Levi’s way of giving both of his brothers a last Christmas present,” Christophersen said.